Friday, September 29, 2006

Ride to teach.

Fully loaded, and with my mental state being tranquil, I fire up Sophie and off we go. She's always eager to play. I feel like I'm neglecting the other bikes but she's really my favorite. It's 5:45 AM. About now the Sun's checking the alarm clock and deciding its still got another hour and a half or so to sleep. Most of my neighbors are probably doing the same thing. Only a couple of houses have any sort of interior lights on. It's Saturday and pretty soon the town will be buzzing with activity as people head out to play, shop, or do errands. For now, it's silent and peaceful in the darkness.

Sophie and I roll quietly through the residential streets. I'm happy that my neighbors still give me friendly waves as I come home in the evenings. To them I'm a fellow homeowner, not some rude motorcyclist who's desperate need for attention over-rides the rules of civility. I like it that way. Riding more silently doesn't hurt my self-esteem at all.

This time of morning it doesn't take long to negotiate the stoplights and get out of the city. I still have to keep my eyes open, though. As we roll underneath an overpass I notice that the landscape sprinklers have been running. Water sits on top of the street striping. It's double trouble because the city is using vinyl stripes glued to the roadway. They're not painted lines with that sparkly grit on top. Water on top of vinyl makes it interesting if you pass over them while leaned over. Some of them are right where you need to brake to a stop. I've seen them long before I get there. No harm, no foul.

Summer's come back. We're having 85 degree (f) days with cooler nights. This time of morning is refreshing and invigorating to ride in. All too soon the ride's done and it's time to think about setting up the range. ( that's a fancy term for the parking lot we'll be training on ) Before I get there, though, it's time to put the tank bag to use.

I always like to make people's life more surreal if possible. I've planned ahead by putting money in the sleeve pocket of the 'stich. The helmet I'm wearing is a flip-up. Guess where I go for breakfast? I do the drive-up thing at McDonalds. Two steaming hot breakfast burritos go into the tank bag. Taking a motorcycle through the drive-up is a fun way to add a little spice to my day. Come to think of it, it's a great way to add some variety to some other people's day, too! After all, who takes a motorcycle through drive-ups?

( Dawn Patrol )

We're the first to arrive. Here's another place that will soon be buzzing with the sound of excited chatter and small bike motors. I'm savoring the serenity of the early morning while I can. Birds are just starting to wake up and call greetings to each other. I'm sure I hear one screech to his fellows to "shut up and let me go back to sleep!" The feathered creatures are fun to listen to but I'm not going to be so happy with them if they crap on Sophie.

For the most part it was a normal class. Except for the enthusiasm level. Like I reported earlier, these folks were excited. To their credit my students kept it up most of the weekend. The synergism was tremendous. Each year I have a couple of classes that stand out and this will be one of this year's. I'd like to share the story of one student in particular. His story illustrates in actual life what I've claimed metaphorically for years. It has to do with having a reason to live and finding a way to feel alive.

It's not uncommon to have students who are there on special missions. Some of the folks who come through the classes just want cheaper transportation, to ride with friends, or to explore the sport. Oftentimes, though, there's deeper water flowing under the bridge. Once in a while I have a rider who comes in to take the class in honor of a loved one who died on a bike. Sometimes they've had an accident themselves and come to class to conquer their fears. Remember Ann? She was the older woman who wanted to learn ride to spend more time with her beloved son. Remember MJ? She wanted to be able to ride with the Patriot Riders in honor of her son who was killed in Afghanistan. Individuals filter through who've been close to death. Now that they've faced the final enemy of man they're not so afraid. Empowerment to "be a little wild" seems to come after surviving the close call. And so it goes. There's much to see beneath the surface.

The young man's sitting down between the two windows. That's his father mugging for the camera with his leg on the chair. I wish this was a better picture. At the time I hadn't thought of writing about Alex. It was just supposed to be a candid shot. I had a hard time keeping the camera still enough for some reason. Remember all the caffeine for "high energy"? It must be contagious because the camera got the shakes. Sorry, but it's the only picture I have. "Dammit, Jim, I'm an instructor, not a photographer!" ( shades of Star Trek: by the way, what kind of bikes would Captain Kirk and Spock ride? I'm sure Spock would be on a BMW! )

Alex turned 17 on Sunday. On the adversity scale, he's much older.

Alex's father approached me early on Saturday morning. He told me that this class meant a lot to Alex. I'd already heard a comment from Alex that made more sense after his dad talked to me. When I was helping Alex pick out a helmet he told me that his mother had discovered he was taking the class and had a fit. She wanted to know how he could do something so "dangerous". Alex said he'd already faced death and only had one life to live, so why not?

Now the father is telling me how Alex was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It nearly took him out. Delivered from the brink, the doctors thought it was in a semi-permanent remission. For a while things seemed to back that thought up. Then, worse than ever, it was back with a vengeance. For a long time it didn't look like Alex would survive. The treatments killed the cancer before they killed the body. Things seem stable for now.

Somewhere in all this process Alex's mother took off with another man. I wasn't told any other details. My own thoughts are that prolonged stress in situations dealing with mortality can change people. Sometimes for the better and sometimes not so much. I've seen it happen to young friends in a certain Asian jungle. I've seen it happen to cops. It happens to people dealing with terminal illnesses. Something happened between Alex's mother and father. Exactly what is their business. It's just sad to see.

All of it combined together caused Alex to lose interest in everything. He just didn't care anymore. His dad said he went from an honor roll student to a GPA of 1.56. Then Alex found motorcycling.

Thinking about riding brought Alex out of the slump. The grades started going up. He started taking an interest in life again. Father and son decided to take the class together. They were healing and bonding once more. Alex's dad just wanted me to know the situation and how much this meant to the young man. Heartstrings were purposely being pulled, he admitted. Now I had to contemplate how to reply. Professionalism takes precedence over emotion.

As much as I might want to, I can't just pass a student through. I explained that to Alex's dad. Much to his credit he wasn't asking for favors. He said he just wanted me to know where Alex was coming from. That it might help explain some of Alex's reactions. I offered assurances that we would do our best to help them both succeed. It was something we made a commitment to do for every student that comes through the classes. The rest would be up to Alex. He'd have to earn the completion like everyone else.

Alex was kind of quiet during class. He proved to be coachable, however. I put them both on matching dual-sports. I thought it would help them relate and share the experience if they rode the same kind of bikes. Both father and son passed the class. They earned their successful completion status. My thoughts will wander their way once in a while. It would be nice to know how things are turning out. In reality, I probably won't hear of them except by chance. I wish them luck and peace on their further journeys.

I guess it's this kind of thing that keeps me coming back for more. I love teaching and feel good about sharing rider training with so many motorcyclists. I'm sure it saves lives but that's a general statement. Much of life happens below the surface. Riding has always helped me to dig down and see what's really there. We just don't pass by. We're an active part of life's flow, not just spectators. That's why we commute on two wheels. We've tasted the richness of the soil beneath the surface. We crave the substance, not the fluff.

In the same way I've found a whole world of treasures waiting for me in each new group of students. Some instructors, while being competent, never see past the surface. It's just a group of people coming to learn to ride. I wonder if they know what they're missing. It's possible they don't. If you've never dug for hidden treasures, would you ever know they were there? Once you'd found some, would you ever stop looking for more?

Somehow I've developed the knack of getting people to open up and talk to me. It lets me see underneath the surface. They're not just students, they're "seekers". True, some are there just to learn to ride. Most, though, have goals and dreams that reach far beyond that paved parking lot. Riding and commuting on a bike has primed me to see what's really there. My life has been ever richer because of it.

Riding has given Alex a new life. At least a new zeal and determination to live fully. It's when I ride that I feel the most alive. We're not so different, that young man and I. The world is chock full of wonders. For both of us a bike is the vehicle to go find them on.

Miles and smiles,



Steve Williams said...

Dan: This is an insightful post and the story about Alex quite moving and a strong reminder of what life can be about if we have courage.

A motorcycle has an amazing power to trigger life for many of us who are open to it. Seekers.... yes. I watched "On Any Sunday" for the first time yesterday and it also reminded me of the joy of riding without posturing or conforming. Pure and simple.

I agree, Spock would ride a BMW. Kirk, he would ride a Vespa, that's because he is all about the ladies. All other bikes only attract guys....


irondad said...

Kirk on a Vespa? Ok, I'll give you that. How about Scotty? A Harley Fat Boy?


Steve Williams said...

Scotty would want something to tinker with---an old Vincent or BSA.

Or maybe a new Ninja or Hyabusa that can go WARP 9.